Before my role as Drought Response Officer I worked with disabled and special needs youth, and saw first-hand the benefits of art as a tool to overcome mental health problems.
The process of engaging with art is in its self very calming. However, it also provides time and space for people to process the internal monologue attached to mental health problems. It can help to find reason within the chaos.
Nathan Tessmann comes to mind. He was born with a severe degenerative condition, and doctors are still not sure exactly what the problem is. Nathan needs assistance with the basic things in life. As a result, his outlook on life was extremely bleak.
He was “the boy in the wheel chair” and he felt a burden on society and his family. Nathan did not want to live any more, but did not even have the capabilities to take his own life which threw him into a spiral of depression.
I was running music workshops at the local high school and Nathan approached me one day with a hip-hop song he wrote. I was extremely impressed. The content of this song was so heart-felt and a real window into Nathan’s life. This started our six-year journey, coaching him as much as I could with song writing and performance.
This led to other hip-hop artists jumping on board to take Nathan to the next level. He ended up on stage in front of 16,000 people at Australia’s largest hip-hop festival, Sprung Fest. He shared the stage with the Hilltop Hoods and Bliss n Eso, two of Australia’s biggest hip-hop bands.
Nathan found his gift. He found his sense of place and purpose as well as using hip- hop as a platform to express emotions and feelings that had been locked up all his life. Nathan went from wanting to end his life to living a life he could never have imagined, simply by having the courage to express himself and try something new.
These experiences inspired me to use art as a way to deal with the emotional impact of drought, bushfires and COVID-19. The Art of Resilience Competition provides a platform for Parkes Shire Youth to process these unprecedented events and to try and make sense of complex issues and challenges.
By Roger Kitson